The tranquility of the Cham Islands

By Darren Barnard   April 27, 2024 | 03:00 pm PT
Situated 20 km off the coast of Hoi An are a cluster of islands with untouched and unspoiled beaches that are growing in popularity, but are still relatively unknown compared to nearby destinations such as Da Nang and Hoi An itself.

The main island covers 15-square-kilometers with winding roads connecting the key areas of the island. The definitive unique selling point of the island is the spectacular, unspoiled and untouched beaches. Golden sand, crystal-clear water and giant palm trees await as you drive over steep roads and spot countless pockets of blissfulness waiting to be enjoyed. These beaches are some of the most stunning in not just Vietnam, but in the whole of Asia.

The beauty of them can be truly appreciated as they are constantly empty, particularly the ones further away from the most-populated area near the main harbor, such as Bim Beach and Huong Beach. Domestic and international tourists who visit similarly seaside destinations such as Phu Quoc island and Hoi An, repeatedly lament the amount of private beaches that are inaccessible, leading to the likes of Long Beach and An Bang beach becoming annoyingly overcrowded, particularly on weekends and public holidays.

An empty beach on Cham Islands. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

An empty beach on Cham Islands. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

These issues do not arise in the Cham Islands where the serenity of the landscape can be truly enjoyed, with the only exception being a couple of beaches that are busy between 12-2 p.m. each day as they are populated by day-trippers. However, these crowds can easily be avoided by just speaking to your hotel about the best times to visit each one. There is also even the option of visiting one of the smaller eight islands close to the main island to enjoy the stillness they offer.

As the sun sets over the horizon in the Cham Islands (a moment that cannot be experienced on the mainland in Vietnam) there are numerous wonderful families waiting to welcome you into their restaurants with the freshest catch of the day. Tourism is still fairly limited here, so it is easy to strike up a sense of familiarity with these kind people during your trip, which is much harder to achieve when staying in more crowded destinations across the east Vietnam sea nearby.

A tourist (L) goes on a fishing trip with a local man on Cham Islands. Such activity is spontaneous and the tourists can negotiate the prices with the locals. Photo by Lucas

A tourist (L) goes on a fishing trip with a local man on Cham Islands. Such activity is spontaneous and the tourists can negotiate the prices with the locals. Photo by Lucas

It certainly could be argued that if tourism continues to develop here, there is a possibility of this area losing some of its tranquility and overall uniqueness. There are countless examples within the country where tourism has flourished, leading to a greater focus on check-in opportunities for a new Instagram post instead of an appreciation of the natural beauty the place has to offer. This is particularly evident in Sa Pa where some grotesque sculptures have been erected in the past, creating an eyesore in one of the most beautiful regions of the country.

Many of these families living in these islands have suffered a depreciation in visitors over the last few years, firstly due to the pandemic. Following this, tourism was further affected by the tragic accident that occurred in 2022, when a speedboat from Hoi An capsized and 17 passengers lost their lives. Prior to these events, the islands welcomed 440,000 passengers in 2019 and have yet to reach such figures since.

Many complain about the influence of the tourism industry on these beautiful settings, but the Cham Islands certainly has the capacity to grow and cope with the increased visitors as smaller family-run hotels and restaurants, many of whom speak competent English, would welcome more visitors with open arms. There are also certainly plenty of clear, open sand for visitors to enjoy at the numerous beaches before overcrowding begins to become a possible problem.

I would also argue that visitors would benefit from further tourism, as there are currently only two speedboats each day from Cua Dai in Quang Nam Province and the danger of being unable to book a vacant room is far from being a reality. The Cham Islands are a rare case where tourism development would not hinder the specialty of these islands and it could even open up further possibilities of snorkeling and fishing trips with the wonderful locals.

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